Chuck Williams, 100, who founded the Williams-Sonoma empire and ushered in an era of aspirational culinary retailing, has died.

The retailer of high-end home goods said Mr. Williams died peacefully of natural causes Saturday at his home in San Francisco.

Mr. Williams opened his first Williams-Sonoma store in Sonoma, Calif., in 1956, inspired by a trip to Paris three years earlier. A lover of cooking and entertaining, he wanted U.S. professional chefs and home cooks to have access to high-quality cookware and tools.

He refurbished the store off Sonoma's town square, covering the floor with black-and-white checkerboard tiles and painting the walls a bright yellow that he had seen in pictures. He built custom shelving to display individual pots and pans and crafted a simple logo with the words Williams and Sonoma in block letters over a woodcut illustration of a pineapple - a symbol of hospitality.

The shop was such an enormous success that in 1958, he relocated to a 3,000-square-foot store in San Francisco.

Julia Child's landmark 1961 cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and her cooking show on television sent even more cooks interested in French cuisine to Williams-Sonoma, and 11 years later, that store had expanded to twice its original size and the catalog, first published in 1958, was flourishing.

Mr. Williams sold the company in 1979, but he remained closely involved with it. - AP